Ray Rice and his enablers: why men must speak out

On Sunday night, TMZ Sports released a new video showing Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out Janay Rice, his then-fiancée and now his wife, on an elevator in a casino hotel. By Monday morning, sports networks and morning talk shows were abuzz, talking again about what is far too familiar in our national life – male violence against women – and the mishandling of this gruesome incident by National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Ravens football team – not to mention the entire National Football League.

An earlier tape that had showed Rice dragging Janay Rice, obviously unconscious, off the elevator, but not striking her had resulted in an investigation of the incident by the commissioner’s office and eventually a two-game suspension of Rice. But, to Goodell’s surprise, the announcement of the suspension caused a firestorm of protests. The great majority of sports commentators (many of whom are retired athletes), advocates against domestic violence, and the general public strongly felt that the investigation disregarded most of the protocol as to how matters of domestic violence should be dealt with, and that the punishment was much too light – so much so that Goodell, who usually drips with arrogance, had to make a public apology for his mishandling of this domestic violence incident.

But with the release of this new tape showing Rice actually knocking out his then fiancée in the elevator with two punches, what Goodell, the Ravens, and the NFL owners had thought they had quickly washed their hands of is again aflame in the 24-hour news cycle, where millions will revisit this incident and its mishandling by Goodell and the NFL.

In an attempt to get ahead of this new tape and the buzz that it was expected to create, the commissioner’s office released a statement to the media early yesterday, saying that it didn’t know about this tape when Goodell and its other representatives met with Rice and his wife and then announced Rice’s two-game suspension.

No pass for Goodell, Ravens and NFL

Even if we accept their claim (which is pretty hard for me to do), its unavailability at time of the investigation shouldn’t give Goodell (and for that matter, the Ravens) a pass for the way that they (mis) handled this gruesome episode of domestic violence. And from what was said by commentators in the sport’s world and elsewhere yesterday and today, it’s more than apparent that NFL and Goodell’s defense that “we didn’t have the tape at the time of our investigation so we really didn’t know until now what really happened” isn’t going to fly.

Think about it: before Goodell as well as Ravens coach Jim Harbaugh and Ravens officials saw this new tape, what did they think had transpired on that elevator? Did the new tape really tell them something that they didn’t already know? Wasn’t the first tape enough to tell that something very wrong had happened in that elevator?

C’mon, it takes little imagination to reach the conclusion that Ray Rice did something very, very violent to Janay Rice in that elevator before the doors opened. What else could explain the fact that when doors did open, she was flat on her back, badly bruised, and unconscious?

Goodell as well as the Ravens’ coaches and management had to know that Janay Rice had been brutalized. Goodell is very arrogant, as I said, but he’s not very stupid! Sorry, Roger! Don’t expect most people to buy into the idea that if you had been in possession of this new tape earlier, you would have acted differently.

So what now?

Well, last night the Ravens released Rice and the NFL has terminated his contract and banned him indefinitely from football. Should he be banned for life? Is one year enough? While these questions will be discussed and decided, no less urgent is that the “enablers,” to use Keith Oberman’s term, not be given either a free pass or a light reprimand. Goodell should be fired. He mishandled nearly every aspect of this incident. It is obvious now that he never wanted a full investigation of this episode of domestic violence. His main concern was to stuff the “genie” of violence against Janay Rice, and women generally, back into the bottle ASAP and turn public attention back to the good vibes and the mountains of revenue that will flow to the owners and the league with the opening of a new season. In short, Goodell revealed both enormous insensitivity to the reality of domestic violence against women and a loyalty no matter what the cost to the league’s owners and the league’s bottom line.

As for the Ravens they shouldn’t get a free pass either. They too were enablers and should be penalized for their role. But even if all this is done (and it won’t be done without a public outcry), neither the National Football League nor our society can let things rest here. Why? Because many people know that what happened on that elevator isn’t isolated or infrequent.

Teachable moment

As quiet as it is kept, violence against women permeates society as well as sports. It doesn’t come out of the blue or once in a blue moon. Instead, it is reoccurring, widespread, and deeply embedded in – and a too frequent expression of – male supremacist behavior and thinking. Spokespeople for organizations fighting against domestic violence have amply documented this fact. And yet there is little evidence that this shameful and violent reality is being attended to on the scale that it urgently requires.

Changing our sports and broader culture overnight won’t be easy, but the controversy and discussion surrounding Ray Rice and the shameful response of Goodell, the Ravens, and the NFL should not become lost in tomorrow’s news cycle. Instead, they should be turned into a teachable and action moment. This teachable moment should include all forms of violence, including the horrendous rates of sexual assault on college campuses and across the nation.

Each of us, and especially men, fathers, and male athletes should find ways to speak out and do something about what can accurately be called a national social crisis. The first victims of violence against women are obviously women, but it also morally scars, diminishes and disrupts our community, social institutions, our society, and each of us individually.

End gender inequality

No country or culture or class or nationality or race has a franchise on misogyny and violence against women. It cuts across all these social groups. And while we should join others in condemning acts of violence against women in other lands, it should in no way take away from the imperative to clean up our own backyard. Moreover, it has to be addressed at every level where people live, work, recreate, and gather – and maybe none more so than in politics, where right-wing extremists in the Republican Party and on talk radio and TV, animated by the most backward male supremacist ideas, unapologetically make “war” on women. After all it was the GOP who stonewalled the renewal of the Violence against Women Act because they rejected extending the law’s protections for women who are undocumented immigrants, Native Americans, LGBT, or students on campuses.

And finally, such a campaign should be combined with other initiatives and measures to bring an end to gender inequality in our society.

Photo: Baltimore Ravens tight end Owen Daniels, left, and head coach John Harbaugh laugh during an NFL football practice at the team’s headquarters, Monday, Sept. 8, 2014, in Owings Mills, Md. Ravens running back Ray Rice was let go by the Ravens on Monday and suspended indefinitely by the NFL after a video was released showing the running back striking his then-fiancée in February. (AP/Patrick Semansky)



Sam Webb
Sam Webb

Sam Webb is a long-time writer living in New York. Earlier, he was active in the labor movement in his home state of Maine.